Friday, July 23, 2010

Taking on Beijing's taxis (& bicyclists!)

Living in China is always an adventure, but I didn't realize that even taking a taxi would sometimes be a challenge. Me and taxis... we don't have that great of a relationship. Not lately at least. Let's just say out of the last 6 times I have taken a cab, I have been kicked out of said cab 3 out of those 6 times. Thats not really a great record... not at all. These 3 recent getting-kicked-out episodes aren't the first time it has happened, but its the first time it has happened so close together and been really noticeable to me - and upsetting! so, let's start from the beginning.

I was meeting a new friend at a local shopping area, so, being my usual self and in no mood for the subway, I opted to take a cab. Absolutely no problem this time - I flagged down a cab, luckily had a nice driver who understood me perfectly and drove me exactly where I wanted to go. By the time we arrived, I was feeling pretty accomplished by this seemingly simple action of taking a taxi.. (sometimes, its the little things) ....paid the driver, opened the taxi door when WHAM!! I opened the door onto a biker rider trying to pass by. Ooops. I felt awful! I shut the door and looked at the taxi driver with big eyes - OMG! I'm so sorry! I said in Chinese, knowing these cabs are usually personally owned by the drivers. Luckily, he was a nice taxi driver, smiled and assured me "mei shi mei shi" ("it's nothing") - I think he felt bad for me. He must have known what was waiting for me!

I stepped out of the taxi and walked over to the bike rider who was just standing near her bike a few feet away from the taxi. Guys - I merely OPENED the door on her. She didn't actually fly right into it, and she wasn't moving very fast, and she didn't even fall. But of course I rushed over, apologized a million times, asked her if she was okay... I must have ruined her entire day because she immediately started cursing at me in a stream of rapid-fire Chinese. After a few minutes of this I realized there was nothing I could do - she wasn't injured, her bike wasn't damaged at all - so I walked away, completely embarrassed & obviously apologetic.

After a few great hours hanging out with my friend, I went over to the taxi queue to catch a ride home. I got into the first cab and told the driver where I wanted to go. "I don't know where it is" he says - and because *I* don't know HOW to get home from there (driving), I'm at a loss, so I shyly step out of the car, feeling like a silly foreigner, completely self conscious and embarrassed. Onto the next cab, I get in, crossing my fingers and hoping with every fiber of my being that this driver would know where I wanted to go. Apparently not. I gave him street names, landmarks such as subway stations, the CCTV television building - he said he doesn't know exactly where it was. so. I got out, the second time in just 3 minutes, completely embarrassed! I mean - this guy is a Beijing taxi driver and he doesn't know where the CCTV building is? FISHY! VERY FISHY!! I don't know if I believe that.

A couple days later I took a taxi and it was flawless, the driver was awesome, he understood me, and when we were stuck in a traffic jam he complained about all the cars and I agreed.... when he realized I spoke Chinese, it was like a floodgate opened and we chatted the whole way back to my apartment. It was like he had been dying to talk to someone! I love that sort of taxi driver!

He restored my faith in taxis, which is why yesterday I felt comfortable flagging down a taxi on the way home from school. The taxi came driving over, I thought "nice!" I had this theory that I'm less likely to be kicked out of a cab if I flag the driver down and he drives over to me - as opposed to seeing a taxi sitting on the side of the road and me going over to him. I figured this way, the taxi driver is making a choice to come over to me and take me somewhere. I was convinced it was fool-proof. Unfortunately, I was proved wrong. I got into the cab, told him where I wanted to go - anticipating the "I don't know where it is" excuse, I threw out all the landmarks and surrounding streets. The taxi driver responded "I'm sorry, blah blah getting off of work blah blah words I don't understand blah other direction blah." so, I got out. His accent was super thick and he was talking really fast, but I'm pretty sure he was getting off from work and was hoping to pick up one last ride - if it was going in the direction he wanted to go.

I decided SCREW TAXIS!! Every time a taxi drove by I immaturely (but very satisfyingly) thought "screw you" as I made my way to the subway. I SHOULD have thought "wow at least he said he is sorry!" The other drivers acted like they couldn't be bothered. At least this one was apologetic! But at the time, it made me feel bad and I fought tears the entire walk to the subway station.

I've taken the subway since then. The good thing is it was a really bad day and I wanted nothing more than to stay inside my house and NOT leave for the rest of the day.... fortunately, I had a hair appointment and was forced to go back out. I'm glad I did because it made me turn my negative day into a positive day, and I had a great time walking to and from the subway station and just enjoyed being outside in Beijing. Plus, my new hair stylist is amazing! Who knew I'd have to come to Beijing for someone who can do a great blonde?!

Lessons learned:
1. Always look before opening a car door!
2. My "call a taxi over to you and you are less likely to get kicked out" theory is completely false.

We are going traveling tomorrow - maybe by the time we get back to Beijing I'll feel like taking my chances on a taxi again. :)


P.S. An update on my homesickness and slight culture shock - I am feeling SO much better! Now that I've made a few friends here and have made myself get out and about, try new things, enjoy travel.... I have been feeling so much more at home and have been able to cherish my time here.


  1. Beijing taxis are insane haha I'm so proud at your courage to deal with them! They try to con us all the time and we are originally from Beijing. If you're wearing American clothes, they try to cheat you out of your money gahhh. There's nothing more impressive to Chinese people I think than a nice foreigner who is trying to communicate using Chinese :D I'm sure you wowed a lot of people! Ignore those meanies who are cocky. They just lost a nice tip.

    I should teach you some phrases to help you fight back the next time someone starts yelling at you for no reason. Also typical of Beijing people in a hurry hahaahhaa :D

  2. Angie - yes please do!!!! because I totally don't know any curse words in Chinese! LOL! (but trust me, she was cursing at me... lol!) Well, except simple ones that aren't really bad at all. None of our teachers, here or in the US, want to teach us real Chinese curse words for some reason ;) We'll probably hear them a lot more than we want to if we know what they are, ha ha!

    Luckily the taxi drivers here are pretty good for the most part, they always put the meter on and the official taxis don't try to scam us - other than kicking us out, which they are legally not allowed to do, but they know some of us (me) are not going to put up a fight, so they do it anyway and get away with it!

  3. OH man this is crazy. I'm glad you stuck with it. But that is seriously way too funny about hitting the girl on the bike, I mean what are the chances!?(Not funny that she could have been hurt, just the situation)
    I'm glad to hear that you are settling in better, making a few friends can make anywhere better!

  4. Oh wow. I'm sorry that taxis have been such a mess. But on the bright side, you're such a good writer that it was engaging to read - I'm just glad I wasn't in your position! I would have been so frustrated.

    Have a lovely weekend!

  5. I don't like to take taxis at all...I don't know why

  6. Lol Beijing taxi drivers are in a class of their own! When I was there I always traveled with people who spoke more fluent Mandarin than me so I never had to really deal with them, but hubby and I are Amazing Race fans and taxi drivers (anywhere) can definitely make you or break you!

  7. Oh man, I'm way too sensitive to deal with people like that, lol, I cry too easily! I'm glad you are feeling better about everything!

  8. oh no So sorry about your bad taxi experiences, taxi's were our main way of transport. We never had a bad experience, but a couple times they would ask us to roll down the windows because they were worried we had Swine Flu (it was at it's height then).

    The traffic there is just crazy! Every bus we drove in was insane!!!

  9. Aww don't feel bad! That happens all the time here in Shanghai too. And I've lived here for 10 years but when I don't know directions & the taxi driver has no idea - it's no big deal, really! I'm not even lying - it happened to me today.

    They don't think you're silly at all - if anything, THEY are the ones who feel embarrassed or awkward because they don't know the roads. They just have a different way of showing it. So don't feel bad about it - it happens to everyone :)

  10. Kamara - you made me feel soo much better!! thank you! that is just the sort of reassurance I needed. :)

    Everyone else - thanks for commenting! I wasn't sure anyone would read such a long post, haha. I appreciate everything you guys said! :)

  11. I don't like taxis anywhere, in the states or abroad. I just feel like I'm going to get taken for a ride (literally and figuratively). The culture takes a little getting use to.

  12. I think taxi's are probably tough everywhere, and the drivers not knowing how to get you to your location? Insane. A taxi driver should know how to get anywhere in their city. At least you kept on trying - I would have been completely discouraged after the first incident!

    Chic on the Cheap

  13. I am enjoying your posts. Even the long ones.
    :) Your experiences are interesting.
    I give you so much credit, for learning
    another language and being far from home.
    I am glad you have found some friends, so
    you are not homesick.
    Wow, you found a great hair stylist. Does
    it cost less than in the U.S.?

  14. Ugh that's annoying. I live in Singapore now and gotta admit, taxis here are easy though sometimes they're not great at directions or will take you the longer way.

    p.s. Wow, glad you can access Blogger!

  15. Steph, I think you're being really hard on yourself. If the taxi drivers claim that they can't understand you or don't know where you want to go, that's their problem. Seems to me that you have no problem communicating in Chinese. I am glad you're not as homesick anymore. Oh, and there nothing a good haircut can't fix :-) Great to hear from you and thanks again for keeping us updated. Take care of yourself.


  16. Andrea - thanks so much for the kind comment!

    Lyddie - exactly right! My friend in the states asked why they don't have GPS and I said because they would never have an excuse to kick you out then! LOL.

    Chic 'n cheap - cool I didn't know you are in Singapore! Singapore seems awesome. I am definitely going there for one of my "visa runs." I heard I would love it! hah.

    Anna - thanks! I am hard on myself sometimes but it happens to the best of us. Sometimes the last thing you need is to get kicked out of a cab twice in a row! you'll see.... lol! Anyway I don't think its my Chinese but who knows, I know I speak it with an American accent. When people with a really thick accent speak English to me, I have a really hard time understanding - I'm really bad at that - so I have no doubt other people are like that too. But then again, a few guys riding in the elevator with me the other day told my my Mandarin is really biaozhun, so I'd think most people can understand me :)

  17. Steph - I read this post a while back but was underground so I couldn't comment, lol. I wonder what it is that made those taxi drivers rude to you. I have never gotten kicked out of a cab when in China, BUT it has happened a lot in Boston, funny enough, and each time it just angers me.

    Many drivers here don't want to pick you up if you aren't going too far, esp if its a weekend and they can find someone who is going further and will bring them more $. It's illegal to do that, but I still get kicked out anyways. But I don't think that's why it happens in Beijing...? Hrm! Either way, I'm sorry these incidents had to happen to you.

  18. Oh, Andrea, I forgot to answer you - to have my hair highlighted, plus lowlights and a cut, it was cheaper than the US but not by much!

    Jean - I know in NY around Christmas, so many cabs wouldn't pick anyone up because they were waiting for someone who wanted to go all the way to the airport! haha. Sometimes I think its because I'm a foreigner, I don't know! I have no idea. Its either that, or they don't want to go where I am going, or they really don't know where it is.